Defeat isn't always agony.

"This is just the beginning," said Frankford's Barbara Kellam, 30, the day after her team, led by Patti LaBelle, finished a disappointing second on NBC's

Clash of the Choirs


Tonight, the 20 singers, handpicked and then driven hard by the city's prima diva, will perform with her live in the Bronx, N.Y. Then they'll join LaBelle at Caesars Atlantic City on New Year's Eve.

The head of a cancer outreach program at the University of Pennsylvania is happy, too.

Although Jessica Simpson's ex, Nick Lachey, and his Cincinnati team won America's votes for the grand prize, $250,000 for that city's Children's Hospital, $50,000 each was awarded to charities on behalf of the other four choirs.

"This is a tremendously generous gift," said Chanita Hughes-Halbert, founder of With Our Voices at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania. "It will help us expand our services and continue to offer them to African Americans in Philadelphia."

The cause was personal not only for LaBelle, who lost four sisters to cancer, but also for one of the Philly singers, Rachael Sutliff, a survivor of stage four non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Of course, not all the talk was of silver linings - especially since many thought Philly deserved the gold.

Including Patti LaBelle.

"It was a rip-off - somebody stole it from me," she said in a phone interview Thursday night just after the show, noting that she'd had the support of fellow choirmasters Michael Bolton and Kelly Rowland.

During the four-night series, another choir leader, country singer Blake Shelton, continually expressed awe, at one point bowing to LaBelle.

Quickly, she sounded more positive notes.

"I'm still a winner, you know what I mean? I'm not taking anything away from Nick Lachey. . . . I'm 63, he's about 2. It's called

Clash of the Choirs

, not

Clash of the Popularity

," she said.

The Phillies have already invited her group, dubbed "Patti's Boom Boom Choir," to sing at Citizens Bank Park in March, she said right after the show.

Kellam, who belted out "No More Drama" on Thursday night, praised LaBelle for letting so many members sing lead.

"About half of us were given a chance. That's what I didn't see from the other teams," added Kellam, who goes back to work Monday at USAirways, where she's a customer-service representative.

After singing lead on "I'll Stand by You" Tuesday, a choked-up J'onett DeVeaubray of Philadelphia said her lifelong dream had just come true - being mentored by Patti LaBelle and then sharing a stage with her.

LaBelle said she didn't worry who had pop-star looks, hoping people would "vote for what they hear, not what they see, because that's prejudice."

"I didn't know they could sing lead like that, but they killed it," she said.

"What do mean, how close did I come to tears?" Kellam said yesterday. "I was full of tears. They had to touch my makeup up [Thursday] night three, four times."